Peace and Safety to the Epicureans of today, no matter where you might be – Happy Twentieth!
Recently in the Facebook group we’ve had opportunity to once again discuss the differences between Epicurus and the Stoics, and that has brought to mind this passage from Cosma Raimondi’s letter:
I find it surprising that these clever Stoics did not remember when investigating the subject that they themselves were men. Their conclusions came not from what human nature demanded but from what they could contrive in argument. Some of them, in my view, placed so much reliance on their ingenuity and facility in debate that they did not concern themselves with what was actually relevant to the enquiry. They were carried away instead by their enthusiasm for intellectual display, and tended to write what was merely novel and surprising — things we might aspire to but not ones we should spend any effort in attaining. Then there were some rather cantankerous individuals who thought that we should only aim for what they themselves could imitate or lay claim to. Nature had produced some boorish and inhuman philosophers whose senses had been dulled or cut off altogether, ones who took no pleasure in anything; and these people laid down that the rest of mankind should avoid what their own natural severity and austerity shrank from. Others subsequently entered the debate, men of great and various intellectual abilities, who all delivered a view on what constituted the supreme good according to their own individual disposition. But in the middle of all this error and confusion, Epicurus finally appeared to correct and amend the mistakes of the older philosophers and put forward his own true and certain teaching on happiness.
The part that struck home to me tonight in writing this was “Nature had produced some boorish and inhuman philosophers whose senses had been dulled or cut off altogether, ones who took no pleasure in anything; and these people laid down that the rest of mankind should avoid what their own natural severity and austerity shrank from.”
I think it’s very important to relentlessly expose the error of Stoicism in both its ancient and modern forms, because not only are the people who suffer from it to be pitied, but it is desirable to restrain their misery from spreading in ever-widening circles. Even so, not for a moment do I think all modern Stoics are malicious in spreading their pessimistic views of life: many of them come to their views quite honestly as a result of many different types of misfortune not always of their own making.
It’s very understandable that people – especially young people – who live in poverty or oppression or disease or simply misfortune are going to come to believe that escape from pain is all for which they can hope in life. Such people find pleasure so difficult or infrequent that they come to believe that pleasurable living is an impracticable or an impossible goal. Such unfortunates can fairly be described as people who have had their senses dulled or cut off altogether, and they can pitifully be observed to take no pleasure in anything.
Or course Epicurus spoke to such people as these, pointing out that even though their circumstances may not allow enjoyment of luxury, they can still experience very real pleasures in life. So even the most unfortunate can experience lives worth living. It’s a pity that so many choose to ignore Epicurus’ advice and reject it violently. Those are the many who, as Cosma Raimondi observed, are among the most self-righteous in laying down that the rest of mankind should avoid what their own natural severity and austerity shrink from.
Such people are always going to be with us, and Cosma Raimondi’s letter serves as great example of how we can work to reach those whose minds are still open.
As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!
And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”